This post is co-authored by Beata Francis and Dimity Wehr.

Beginning is easy – continuing is hard.

Japanese proverb

It takes a village to change engineering education: educational researchers, curriculum developers, designers, academics and subject matter experts. In the process of re-designing curriculum, those involved challenge and change deeply-held beliefs about learning and teaching, requiring new language to articulate and reinforce the process. 

MIDAS is an initiative in FEIT to work towards graduating ‘More Innovative, Design-Abled Students’. Here we share how the ‘MIDAS’ movement in the Faculty of Engineering & IT (FEIT) developed a language (nomenclatures) that not only supports shifts in academic thinking, but has also led to new behaviours and attitudes in learning and teaching.

Pivotal principles for sustainable change

Summer Studios have been a key initiative in MIDAS. Studio-based learning is highly engaging, enabling students to develop capabilities in holistic and authentic ways. It is situated learning in quasi-professional activities that enable students to integrate, reflect on and apply their learning, and thereby learn more deeply (Gibbs, 1992).

The MIDAS concept was used to develop a series of training workshops to ensure that the language and behaviour used by studio facilitators remained consistent. During these workshops participants were encouraged to adopt the following ten values and principles, adapted from existing scholarship on engineering education.

🦋 Inject beauty, joy and love

Engineering and IT teaching can be very technical, but Dave Goldberg encourages us to think about beauty, joy and love. Dewey, Pugh and Girod (2007) also argue for a view of science education from the perspective of art and aesthetics. They present three ideas that influence our language for injecting beauty, joy and love into engineering and information technology education. These are:

  1. We learn better by experiencing things;
  2. We learn better when we connect new experiences to our past experiences;
  3. The experience of art can produce profound shifts in perspective.

MIDAS therefore encourages educators to identify the joy, love and beauty in their teaching and to share this with their students.

❤️ 🧠 Connect Hearts and Minds

Engaged learning occurs when cognition, affect and action are connected, but we often focus too much on the thinking and understanding required in our subjects. We should stop seeing our students just as ‘brains’, and pay attention to their ‘heart and minds’ as well. We need to empathise.

MIDAS suggests educators inspire their students with strong, positive emotions in their subjects. In order to do this, academics need need to think from the heart as well as the brain.

🤔 Notice, Listen, Question (NLQ)

The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.

Daniel Goleman 1946.

More than active listening, NLQ is a coaching skill we can practise and teach our students. It enables genuine curiosity in others and opens doors for deeper understanding of others and ourselves. Notice language, emotion and body.

Goldberg suggests we listen on two levels:

  • Level 1: Internal listening. You seem like you are listening to the person talking; however, in that instant you are actually thinking about yourself. You think about “What does this mean to me?”
  • Level 2: Curious listening, where the focus is on the other person. While listening to the person talk, you ask questions. You think about “What does this mean to this person?”

MIDAS encourages educators and students to listen on the second level. It helps to empathise with people and to truly understand the needs of the person to whom we are listening. Asking powerful ‘what’ questions is a short-cut to exploring thoughts and feelings more easily (Adams, 2004). By noticing our surroundings and listening to each other at a deeper level, we are well positioned to embrace transformation.

↔️ Manage polarities

Barry Johnson (1996) asks “What do you want to do, breathe in or breathe out’? By framing this in as an either/or question, already we are privileging one over the other. Rather, as Johnson points out, we need both; most situations are not ‘either/or’ but ‘yes/and’. Two opposites cannot function well independently of each other; rather they are polarities, to be managed.

In the context of MIDAS, we often hear research is more important than teaching and learning. By rejecting the premise that an answer can be ‘either/or’, we propose ‘yes/and’. Yes, our research agendas can inform the subject matter we teach; and what we learn and teach in our face-to-face classes can inform our research too.

🤷 Be vulnerable

Hillman (2013) highlights ‘imposter syndrome’ and how people are undermined by believing that they are not qualified to do the job they are appointed to do. Brown (2012) argues for letting go of shame, let our authentic selves be seen and believe ‘we are enough’. This means that we are allowing ourselves the opportunity to be authentic and vulnerable.

Based on Brene Brown (2010) discussion of vulnerability MIDAS suggests considering how often we hear ‘I don’t know yet’ and how this enables a growth mindset. In the MIDAS Summer Studios staff are encouraged to be human; it is okay to not always be right, and most importantly it is okay to need others, because, as Brown argues, vulnerability is the first place of creativity, innovation and change.

🐓 Design for ‘Free range’ education

MIDAS argues that some of our teaching practices and assessment mirror caged hens. Approaching students like they are caged hens, force-feeding them, regulating the conditions and prescribing what to do in every step is inauthentic and potentially dangerous.

Extending the metaphor: a common practice found among those who are ‘caged’ are exam-based assessments. MIDAS seeks to transform assessment so that students ‘learn to remember’ rather than cram information for an exam – allowing students to be more ‘free range’ in their learning.

🤗 Create the Care Factor

Encounters with local people on your travels always leave you feeling better, feeling lifted and noticed. People are able to extol the beauty of their homeland. How might we all create this effect in our interactions with students and with each other? How can we project our own enthusiasm for our discipline to students?

MIDAS suggests that educators welcome their students into their studio, to establish connection and trust between them and to project their enthusiasm. ‘Peer interactions and casual conversations between students and tutors’ (Pollock et al., 2015) are part of a studio , and they are only achievable by mutual trust. This starts with creating the Care Factor and a welcoming environment in class.

🧑‍🎓 Empathise with students

When designing, reviewing, teaching, and assessing, think about the student experience. Better still, ask them (the students). Our work is both to lead and to be in the service of students; seek to understand them, to show that you care, deeply. This has played a critical part in the success of 2020 COVID-19 remote learning conditions.

Students come to the studio unit with a whole host of prior experiences, skills and ideas. It is worthwhile finding out what students have experienced and what they know, to be able to build on these existing skills, experiences and knowledges.

Help students to understand their own assumptions about learning, too. Immersing students in a new environment where learning can be shaped by each student is a new experience for many. They must be reminded that they are driving their own education and to set aside their previous assumptions, re-framing how learning might be applied outside of the university and not just for exams.

👣 Make Small Bets

Small changes can make big impacts. Do not wait for everything to ‘fall into place’. Sims (2011) explains what small bets are all about: in order to explore the possibilities for getting great outcomes we need to use little bets and some creative methods. Little bets are the actions taken to discover, test, and develop ideas that are achievable and affordable. They begin as creative possibilities that get iterated and refined over time, and they are particularly valuable when trying to navigate amid uncertainty, create something new, or attend to open-ended problems. When we can’t know what’s going to happen, little bets help us learn about the factors that can’t be understood beforehand (Sims, 2011, p. 8).

Further reading

To learn more about where this transformative process started, read ‘How FEIT took flight on a 5-year learning journey‘ and ‘The Midas touch: How Summer Studios were born‘. Keep an eye out for further updates in the series soon.

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